All artifacts that have ever been recovered from the ocean floor around the wreck of the ill-fated Titanic cruise liner are offered up for sale to the highest bidder this spring. The collection of about 5,500 objects must be kept together, a judge has ruled.  “It’s unprecedented that something like this be sold.”

By Frank Kuin in New York

With great care, fragile objects from the ill-fated cruise liner RMS Titanic have been placed on a table at the Midtown Manhattan office of Guernsey’s Auctioneers and Brokers. A rusted light fixture. A pristine shaving bowl from London. A baker’s hat bearing the name ‘Hine’. A coffee cup with the logo of Titanic’s operator, White Star Line.

The items are part of a collection of about 5,500 objects from the doomed cruise liner that has been offered up for auction this year, to coincide with the centenary of the disaster. All objects that have ever been salvaged from the wreck site are sold as one lot by the owner, Premier Exhibitions of Atlanta – the parent company of the exclusive steward of the ship, Florida-founded RMS Titanic Inc.

Voorwerpen uit de collectie van de Titanic.

Objects from the Titanic collection.

It is difficult to imagine the arduous voyage the artifacts for sale have made. They went down with the Titanic after it collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, 100 years ago this spring. They rested on the ocean floor, about 3.8 kilometers beneath the surface, in cold and darkness, for many decades until they were recovered by deep-sea divers after the wreck was found in 1985. Painstaking efforts went into their conservation.

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___ Slideshow: Objects from the Titanic

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“The artifacts began being recovered in the first dive done for that purpose in 1987, and then on continuing dives through 2004”, said Arlan Ettinger, Guernsey’s president. “It’s unprecedented that something like this be sold. It’s goosebumps-inducing when you think about it. This is not like a regular auction.”

One unique aspect of the sale is that it is subject to court-imposed conditions. The buyer must agree to keep the artifacts together; none of the items is sold individually. The new owner must also commit to the maintenance of the collection, and should continue to make parts of it available for public viewing. Premier has organized several exhibitions which have been visited by 25 million people – including one currently open in Orlando.

Kopje met het logo van de White Star Line.

Cup with the White Star Line logo.

About a dozen parties from various parts of the world have expressed interest in taking over the collection, which has been appraised at $189 million, said Ettinger. They range from private groups to museums and cities, he said. The auction process takes place behind closed doors, and the winning bid will be assessed against the legal requirements before the new owner will be announced in mid-April, around the centenary of the disaster.

The auction is not uncontroversial. Critics, including relatives of victims of the catastrophe, have dismissed the sale as “grave robbery”. According to the owners, all items have been retrieved from the so-called ‘debris field’ on the seabed around the wreck. They say no objects have been removed from the ship, which is considered a burial site.

Handschoenen van een opvarende van Titanic.

Gloves that belonged to a Titanic passenger.

This post is also available in: Dutch

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